[Originally published in August 2015, last update: 20 Jan 2017]
I eat them. I don’t need to eat them: I am healthy without them, I can afford to choose what I eat and I have what I would call a very good knowledge of cooking and eating without animal products. Yet, I eat oysters or mussels every now and then (and to be honest, not as often as I’d like).
I eat them because I have not found a good reason not to and because I enjoy eating them. I would not consider myself an activist for “veganism”, I would however consider myself an activist against speciesism, for a fair consideration of the interests of all sentient animals, for animalism (an all-encompassing word I like — similar to humanism except with “animal” instead of the restrictive “human”). As such, I try to think of the consequences of what I and others do on all animals, humans and non-humans and I care about them.
The oysters and mussels we eat have not been shown to be sentient and as far as our knowledge goes, we cannot say that they are sentient. That's just facts. So, I don't eat any sentient animals and I avoid as much as I can things that are bad for sentient animals. They do not have a brain. They do not have a complex nervous system.
Oysters have nerves and ganglions and react to stimuli and as such, it is possible for pain to exist although we aren’t sure of this. Even if there was “pain” transferred by the nerves, the absence of a brain means that there is no awareness and no suffering.
Please read “On the Consumption of Bivalves”, also at The Animalist, for more details into the biology of bivalves.
Some insist that since research into their sentience is inconclusive, it is better not to eat them, just in case. I understand. If it ever becomes clear that they are actually sentient, I will stop eating them. Honestly, I doubt it will ever happen. Rephrasing this: it is not impossible that in the future we discover that they experience some form of sentience. It’s also not impossible that we don’t. So, most vegans don’t eat them, because of the benefit of the doubt and I can understand and appreciate that. I eat them because to the best of our knowledge, they are not sentient.
In addition and just as importantly, growing them and harvesting them is also ethical. They can be farmed and harvested without killing or harming or depriving sentient beings. In the South of France for instance, oysters are hand harvested: no dredging occurs. Wikipedia’s entry on oyster farming also confirms the beneficial impact on the environment. Mussels are farmed along a line so again, no dredging and no sentient casualty. This in itself cannot be said of cereals where a lot of rodents are killed during the harvest. As far as sea urchins are concerned, there again eating them is beneficial for the environment in some places: in Australia for instance, “Researchers have urged Australians to put sea urchins on their menus and help the environment at the same time.”
Oysters are “natural filters” and help their environment become cleaner. Because of this, they require a reasonably clean environment if they are to be safe to eat. Oyster and mussel farmers must remain vigilant and concerned regarding the quality of their environment.
What’s more, and that’s just a lucky coincidence and a bonus, they are extremely rich in B12 and Omega 3 — the two things that happen to be the hardest to get without supplements or enriched food on a plant based diet. I am not saying that vegans should start eating oysters or mussels. A vegan diet is great as it is.
I understand that most vegans and animal activists have no desire to start eating non-sentient animals or prefer not to eat them just in case. That’s cool. It’s sensible. For my part, I have no intention to eat them less often, let alone stop eating them as I see no reason not to. Peter Singer, on oysters: “I’ve gone back and forth on this over the years. Perhaps there is a scintilla more doubt about whether oysters can feel pain than there is about plants, but I’d see it as extremely improbable. So while you could give them the benefit of the doubt, you could also say that unless some new evidence of a capacity for pain emerges, the doubt is so slight that there is no good reason for avoiding eating sustainably produced oysters.”
In fact I enjoy showing and explaining that I eat them as I believe it is an open minded and pragmatic approach to “veganism” and because I believe it is beneficial for the environment.
To the argument that I should not or must not call myself a vegetarian or that I am a pescatarian because of this, I say that mussels, oysters, clams or sea urchins are not at all comparable to fishes. I would not kill or eat a fish or even a crab or a shrimp as they are sentient and they have an interest to live and not to suffer. I am no pescatarian.
I consider my reasoned and deliberate choice to eat non-sentient animals as part of the choices I make in my fight against speciesism and for animal equality. I accept that others find it unusual, perhaps even disturbing. I don’t accept being put down, excluded or insulted because of it.
I sometimes get called a vegan but I’m never going to base my actions on what a man said 60 odd years ago on the other side of the world. No matter how great he was.
If I stopped dairy it’s because bobby calves are slaughtered and so are their young mums once not productive. If I stopped eggs it’s because male chicks are destroyed and so are their young mums once not productive enough. If I stopped buying wool or leather it’s because sentient animals are hurt and killed in order to produce them.
Not because some vegan big gun said so.
If someone wants to tell me to stop buying or eating something, they’ll have to explain to me why, preferably with concrete examples and evidence. Telling me that I must stop simply because it doesn’t fit an ideology is never going to work on me.
May 2016 : I have now been banned from every local vegan group because of this article. I have received messages of abuse and insults and some vegans have spread ridiculous rumours about me. Charming! I find this kind of behaviour damaging to animal advocacy. It is exclusive, dogmatic and close-minded when in fact an inclusive, pragmatic and friendly approach should be employed.
I invite you to read the links I am providing below. I agree with them, but more importantly they provide plenty of information on why some (a few) of us “vegans” or animalists do indulge in eating mussels or oysters. AND NOT FISH.
It's OK for Vegans to Eat Oysters
Last summer I visited a friend in San Francisco whom I hadn't seen in a while. Normally in such cases, I must gently…
The ethical case for eating oysters and mussels
It was five years ago this month that I became vegan, or...well, ostrovegan. In this blog I officially come out of the…
The Ethical Case for Eating Oysters and Mussels- Part 2
In the last blog, I made the case that there really wasn't a good ethical reason not to eat mussels and oysters. As an…
When He Tweeted This Picture Of Oysters, He Probably Wasn't Expecting This Sort Of Response
People were like, Whaaaaa... Some were thinking, What sort of wizardry IS THIS!? Others were kinda grossed out. But…
From Earthlings: THE THREE STAGES OF TRUTH
- VIOLENT OPPOSITION
Interestingly the same is true regarding eating oysters and mussels in vegan groups.
Great video from an awesome vlog:
ABOUT FISH - DON’T EAT THEM
New scientific studies of animal intelligence leading people to question how animals are treated in…
Culum Brown was five years old when he first considered that humans may not be the only intelligent animal species on…
If You Took Seafood Out of Your Diet, How Would it Really Help the Planet?
In the past 40 years, more than half of the world's wildlife has been eradicated by human activities. Among the most…
Fish Are Sentient and Emotional Beings and Clearly Feel Pain
Fish deserve better treatment based on a review of scientific data on their cognitive and emotional lives. According to…
Fish, Consciousness, and Advocacy
The circulation of articles in early 2003 regarding fish raises two issues: one scientific, the other strategic. A…
fish are sentient | fishcount.org.uk
As stated on the animal sentience website: "A sentient animal is one for whom feelings matter". Sentience is about the…
My comments on this video:
Gary Yourofsky says nothing pertinent or even relevant here. He simply sticks to his set in stone definition of veganism, and that is his one and only argument. It makes him sound like a bigot who explains that he cannot do something because it breaks some Holy Word. His smug expression as he does so makes it come across as even more dogmatic.
Vegan Black Metal Chef says something relevant, in a rude way, which is unfortunate if he was to say that he is open to a conversation. Still, he does not prove that oysters or mussels are sentient. Nerve ganglia have not been shown to be sufficient in order for a being to be sentient. Granted, it is hard to go in depth when it is a short interview and there’s Yourofsky near you.
There is no need to be absolute, there is no need for such black and white, binary thinking that accepts no grey area and hides behind definition rather than examine facts.
There is no animal exploitation involved in farming oysters and mussels or harvesting sea urchins unless you can prove (good luck to you) that oyster and mussels are exploited.
I am not in favour of this exclusive type of veganism that has become so typical of Gary Yourofsky. In another recent video he was “presenting” the point that vegans should refuse to eat at the same table as people who eat anything that is not vegan. Thanks, but no thanks.
Are we strong enough to talk about mussels? - The Vegan Independent
Ethics can be hard When it comes to people challenging my veganism, there have not yet been many questions I couldn't…
My comments on this article:
An interesting article!
- Environmental impact: I am glad that this article shows that farming oysters is beneficial for the environment.
- Health impact: I disagree that animal proteins are automatically a health issue. I think it’s a bit of a woo claim based on a common misunderstanding. Indeed, the dose makes the poison — ie, things can become bad for you based on the amount you consume. Water can kill you if you drink too much of it. As Harriet Hall pointed out in Science-Based Medicine: Aristotle said “Moderation in all things.” Mom said “Eat your vegetables.” They were both right. Mussels and oysters are rich in Omega 3 and B12. Provided the environment isn’t too dirty and provided you don’t eat them every day, they are very good for you.
- Ethical issue: As this article points out, it’s not proven that oysters or mussels can feel anything and it is very unlikely that they can feel anything. I am a free thinker (from Wikipedia: “Freethinkers are heavily committed to the use of scientific inquiry, and logic. The skeptical application of science implies freedom from the intellectually limiting effects of confirmation bias, cognitive bias, conventional wisdom, popular culture, prejudice, or sectarianism.”) and as such I see no valid reason at this stage not to eat oysters and mussels if I want to.
One of the most interesting parts of this article, in my eyes, is the introduction. The author took the question about oysters as “challenging his veganism”, as “an attempt to undermine my veganism”. I find this incredible, and a pity. I don’t want to follow a rigid set of dogma which means I have to feel challenged or undermined by an intelligent question. The present piece on oysters and eating non-sentient animals is not a challenge and it’s not aimed at undermining anybody. I wish vegans weren’t so indoctrinated and defensive. I am not saying this as an insult at all, by the way! To indoctrinate means “to teach (someone) to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs”. It is what too many vegans do when we talk about non-sentient animals. Thankfully, Zane Worthington, the author of the article, went past this and kept a reasonably open mind to examine the consequences of eating oysters and mussels. I don’t share his conclusion but I appreciate the validity of the article. It is unfortunate that one of his comments when discussing this elsewhere was “So, again, to clarify, the point of the article is not to say that it is okay to eat bivalves. The point of the article is around why we shouldn’t. Blurring lines of veganism isn’t a good thing. And […] the reason people put oyster sauce on vegan food is because they are stupid.”
Vegans For Reason
This is Part II on The Case for Eating Oysters, Mussels, and Other Invertebrates? NOPE, Here's Some Science.
This angry and smug red pen trilogy tries to defend the legitimacy of the almighty vegan definition at any cost. “If the vegan definition says no animal, then it must be wrong to eat animals, always!”. This is ignoring the fact that the Venn diagram of sentience and the kingdom Animalia need not entirely overlap.
It misses the point that the sentience of oysters, mussels and sea urchins is, at best, highly unlikely as they don’t have a brain. It explains that nerves and opiate receptors indicate that pain might occur. My point is that this pain does not translate into suffering if the being doesn’t have a brain and isn’t sentient. Suffering is the awareness of pain.
It also goes on to explain that growing mussels has an impact on the environment. I am looking forward to seeing reports on how growing grains or vegetables doesn’t have an impact on the environment, then?
The author regularly blurs the line by talking about other, more developed bivalves and goes as far as to pretend that I defend killing invertebrates in general. She concludes by giving her qualifications, something quite amusing because the moment the writer of The Sentientist also gave her qualifications, she was accused of using them to pretend it makes her right.
The most interesting thing about the red pen trilogy, to me, is how not to write an article. It made me realise that I have been guilty of being a smug smart arse as well, and being on the receiving end, I can see first-hand how it doesn’t work and doesn’t help your case.